Radio Prank: Dihydrogen Monoxide in the Water

April 4th, 2013

I was amused by a news story out of Florida, where a pair of disc jockeys were suspended after going on the radio Monday (April Fools’ Day) and reporting that the local water supply had dihydrogen monoxide in it. Unaware that dihydrogen monoxide is H2O, and H2O is water, many residents went crazy:

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As if we needed any more evidence that science education in this country is absolute crap.

What’s more, the DJs might face felony charges. From a legal standpoint, I’m interested in seeing how this one turns out. I haven’t heard any direct quotes from the broadcast, but can you charge someone with a crime for stating a scientific fact? I’m assuming they were careful and said something along the lines of “there’s dihydrogen monoxide in the water” as opposed to “the water is poisoned with dihydrogen monoxide.” Anyway, I suppose the DJs went in with a fair amount of mens rea; what else did they expect to happen?

15 Responses to “Radio Prank: Dihydrogen Monoxide in the Water”

  1. Dr. Mel Says:

    I assume that the point of law is not if the facts were true or not but the intent to create a public panic. One can stampede stupid animals like sheep and cows by simply startling them. People will stampede when they are startled as well. I like what Agent K said “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.”.

  2. Jessica Says:

    Hopefully the DJs have a good lawyer, but I have heard that Florida has some kind of law that says you can not say anything about the water supply. I’m guessing this is where the felony charges are coming from. Every year when I teach my students chemical naming, I read a “petition like” paragraph to them to see if they can figure it out. Most of them do, but those who don’t it is definitely scary. I always tell the students, “this is precisely why people need to learn at least some chemistry.”

  3. Ryan Says:

    The law states that you can’t make a false report on water quality. There was nothing false about that report other than the fact people didn’t realize what they were saying.

  4. Paul Says:


    I particularly love this:

  5. Andrew (@_byronmiller) Says:

    Pranks like this serve to highlight something I find remarkable: the majority of people in the western world have instant access to huge reserves of knowledge, and yet none of the people panicking thought to google “dihydrogen monoxide”.

  6. Jessica Says:

    @Ryan, I know there was nothing wrong with the report. I was just saying that I was guessing that is where they are getting the possible felony from. I think it is complete BS and I’m convinced that even the water company didn’t realize what it was.

  7. Dan Says:

    To me this is about as funny as telling your friend “Itsan iced ayto dayis n tit” and then “ITS A NICE DAY TODAY ISNT IT…DUMBASS.” Of course people are going to get confused when you deliberately confuse them. It doesn’t mean a whole lot about science literacy or anything besides that these DJ’s are knobs.

  8. andre Says:

    A question this raises for me is how something like this can potentially be a crime yet fraudsters selling homeopathic remedies and magnetic bracelets and similar crap is perfectly legal?

  9. The Aqueous Layer Says:

    A college friend, who is an attorney, told me that asking your lawyer “Is this legal” after you’ve already done it is a bit too late.

    Seems like someone needed to run this by the station’s legal department before going on the air…

  10. eugene Says:

    This is already my modus operandi when I go to Florida (though I haven’t been there for three years now) and I’m increasingly trying to adopt it to my way of life in the rest of the United States:

    “Stay indoors and when you do have to go out, try not to get drunk and if you get into a conversation with another human being, smile like a fool, try not to say anything substantial, and excuse yourself as fast as possible. This is the way that most people in Miami now act and at first I thought it was due to lower standards in schools, but I now know it’s because they are smart. You never know, chances are the other guy either has a gun, or will sue you.”

    Talk about a litigious culture…

  11. qvxb Says:

    If hydrogen is explosive, is dihydrogen monoxide twice as explosive? If carbon monoxide can kill you, can dihydrogen monoxide do the same? No woder people were scared! At least they didn’t say evolution was true.

  12. J-bone Says:

    This doesn’t excuse the panic, but just about a month before the prank Tampa actually did have issues with their water quality when one of the purification plants lost power. Residents may have been a bit more on edge with jokes about their water being contaminated.

  13. John Says:

    I could imagine the panic. And I certainly would not appreciate that joke myself.

    But going as far as it being a crime I highly doubt that. I hope the pranksters are back at their job soon – with red wrists of course.

  14. RAS, PhD, Chemistry Says:

    If all the above responders took the trouble to look up the dictionary definition of WATER, they would understand that the word applies ONLY to the liquid state. Ice is not water, steam is not water, they are different states of the compound H2O. Amazingly, there is no simple name for the compound itself. So, Dihydrogen mnoxide is the correct name for H2O in all its states.

  15. Paul Bracher Says:

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